The toy guide

How to choose toys that bring out your kids' brilliance.

Learning Stages

By Susan Dichter


Susan Dichter wears many hats—mother, writer, former teacher, museum director and librarian. Her books include Teachers: Straight Talk from the Trenches (Contemporary Books, 1990).

When it comes to toys, there are no blanket rules. A good toy is one that is fun for your child, and suitable for his age, developmental needs, and personality. Generally, it also has one or more of the following qualities:

  • Inspires active play. Kids need to do something—push, pull, dissect, build—with a toy. If the toy does all the work, then it loses its appeal after the first half hour. That is the reason kids so often destroy mechanical toys.
  • Sturdy and well-made. Shoddy toys only frustrate, encouraging kids to destroy, not create.
  • Lends itself to more than one use. Toys that are designed to be played with in only one way inhibit imagination and creativity. A simple cardboard box can become just about anything your child wants it to be (house, car, store counter, boat, bed), and it can be pushed, pulled, crawled into, driven or painted.
  • Challenges but doesn't frustrate. You are the best judge here. A toy should be just on the margin of the child's growing capacities.